December 6 will mark 25 years since a gunman opened fire at École Polytechnique de Montréal, killing 14 women and leaving 14 people wounded. Every year since the shooting, mourners have gathered at the site to leave white roses in memory of the murdered and to call for action in the name of victims of violence against women. This year, in addition to the usual commemorative events, the Polytechnique, the engineering school affiliated with Université de Montréal, will mark the anniversary with a pair of new initiatives to support the work of women in engineering and the sciences.
The Polytechnique Montréal Order of the White Rose scholarship and Week of the White Rose fundraiser are the institution’s way of building something positive out of a tragedy, said Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire, chair of the board of directors at Polytechnique.
Starting this year, Polytechnique will award $30,000 to a woman who has graduated from a Canadian engineering program to pursue graduate-level engineering at any national or international institution she chooses. Each institution offering undergraduate engineering in Canada is invited to put forward a candidate for the award. Applicants will be evaluated based on their social commitments, technical achievements, and academic record.
Ms. Thibodeau-DeGuire said Polytechnique made the unusual decision to fund an open scholarship not only as a tribute to the murdered women – 12 of whom were engineering students – but also as a “gift to the community” that was rocked by the attack.
“When this happened 25 years ago, everybody was touched,” said Ms. Thibodeau-DeGuire, who was the school’s director of public affairs in 1989. “You can’t change what happened, but your attitude and what you put forward, ça donne du sens à la tragédie [it gives meaning to tragedy].”
The winner will be selected through a committee headed by Ms. Thibodeau-DeGuire, who became the first woman to graduate from Polytechnique’s civil engineering program in 1963. The high-level panelists include Suzanne Fortier, principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University; Patrik Doucet, dean of engineering at Université de Sherbrooke; Kimberly A. Woodhouse, dean of engineering and applied science at Queen’s University; Cristina Amon, dean of applied science and engineering at the University of Toronto; Elizabeth Cannon, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary; Pearl Sullivan, dean of engineering at the University of Waterloo; and Joshua Leon, dean of engineering at Dalhousie University.
Engineer Nathalie Provost, who was injured during the 1989 shooting, has been given the honorary title “Godmother of the Order of the White Rose” and will act as an ambassador for the scholarship program. “I am very touched that the Order of the White Rose is a scholarship created in honour of my sisters, whose right to practise the wonderful art of engineering was taken away from them,” Ms. Provost said in a statement. “In addition to honouring their memory, the scholarship is a helping hand extended to the next generation, and will enable a young woman to go a step further in fulfilling her dream of becoming an engineer.”
While the award looks to further the career of a woman in engineering, the Week of the White Rose aims to encourage more young women to join the field. The week-long pledge drive supports the school’s year-round fundraising efforts for Folie Technique, the school’s science camp for kids.
The campaign encourages people to buy virtual white roses with proceeds going entirely towards the camp, which focuses its outreach and access efforts on girls, ethnic minorities and young people from economically disadvantaged communities. According to the fundraising website, purchasing one rose for $10 pays for a girl’s transportation to a camp activity, while 25 roses at $150 allows a girl to attend the day camp for an entire week.
For its part, Université de Montréal has marked the anniversary by awarding an honorary doctorate upon the recommendation of Polytechnique to Hélène Brisebois, President of SDK and Associates and a practicing engineer of 27 years. This is only the second time that a woman has received this honour from U de M. The university will also present En souvenir d’elles, a commemorative concert by the U de M orchestra and conductor Jean-François Rivest.